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Microsoft plans to play fair

Shouldn't it be doing that anyway?

Microsoft is launching an offensive to convince the world that it is now serious about doing business competitively and fairly.

Earlier this week, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith unveiled a set of voluntary principles to guide development of the Windows desktop platform worldwide.

"Our goal is to be principled and transparent as we develop new versions of Windows," Smith said. "These voluntary principles are intended to provide the industry and consumers with the benefits of ongoing innovation, while creating and preserving robust opportunities for competition. The principles incorporate and go beyond the provisions of the US antitrust ruling."

Smith told the audience that the principles do not supplant the continued application of antitrust law or the important role of government agencies and the courts in applying those laws.

"Microsoft is committed both to full compliance with antitrust law and to an ongoing and constructive dialogue with governments and others in the industry - both in the US and around the world," he said. The principles, which consist of 12 tenets, are divided into three general categories:

- Designing and licensing Windows to make it easy for computer makers and users to install non-Microsoft programs and configure Windows-based PCs to use non-Microsoft programs instead of, or in addition to, Windows features.

- Providing opportunities for developers to build innovative products on the Windows platform, including products that directly compete with Microsoft's own products.

- Creating interoperability for users so they can control their data and exchange information securely and reliably across diverse computer systems and applications.

The 12 tenets include promises to allow computer makers to add any icons, shortcuts and other features to the Windows Start menu and related Windows features, to not retaliate against computer makers who offer non-Microsoft software and to ease the release of Windows APIs to developers so they can develop new Windows programs.

"We're not suggesting that the Windows Principles will address every question raised by regulators and competitors," Smith said. "However, the fact that there are unanswered questions shouldn't impede the adoption of a broad set of principles in those areas where there is clarity and consensus."

Smith said these principles will remain in place after major parts of the US antitrust ruling expire late next year.

Industry analyst Rob Enderle, principal of the Enderle Group in San Jose, said Microsoft released its 12 tenets because the company realises it must do more than fight just legal battles in regard to its business practices. "What Brad is trying to do is to get ahead of the message," Enderle said.

Microsoft doesn't want countries around the world to come up with their own individual requirements for Microsoft, he said, and is instead taking the lead now to promise an overall framework that countries can accept as a whole.

"They're putting out the message that they're trying to play nice," he said.

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